You’ve probably glanced directly at the sun at noon before. Whether you were trying to follow a baseball through the sky or attempting to imitate Galileo, looking into the sun isn’t an enjoyable experience.
You probably closed your eyes as they teared up and decided that it felt like you’re eyes would burn up if you kept looking at the sun. At least, that’s been my experience.
Did you realize that every time you look at your phone at night, you do something really similar?
With a growing field of research on blue light, scientists are beginning to realize that the spectrum of light emitted from our phones can be very similar to the sun! If you remember, a physics teacher at some point in your life likely pulled out a color progression chart on the electromagnetic spectrum. Most of the “light” on it is stuff we can’t see, such as radio waves and gamma rays, but right past the middle of the spectrum is that small rainbow section.
On the far end of that rainbow is blue, the highest energy visible light. This type of light only makes it through the atmosphere when the sun is brighter in the afternoon. This same type of light is also emitted by your phone, computer, television — really any screen!
Now you might be thinking, looking at a screen doesn’t feel like looking at the sun, and it’s true that the two aren’t quite the same. In reality, what happens is that seeing the blue light, which usually comes in the middle of the day, signals to your brain that it’s noonday.
The real damage isn’t that you’d go blind as if you were looking at the sun. Instead, the blue light throws off your internal clock.
The human body is pretty used to waking up to the sunrise and going to bed with the sunset. Disney character Anna said it well in the original “Frozen”: “The sky’s awake, so I’m awake!”
This is because of the circadian rhythm. Basically, that’s the cycle that your body goes through. It’s why you get tired at roughly the same time every day and why there are night owls and morning birds. When it’s dark, your eyes signal to the brain to release melatonin, a natural chemical that helps you fall asleep. Therefore, it’s hard to fall asleep when it’s not dark.
This is where blue light comes in. For the caveman, blue light was only found when the sun was its brightest. But with modern technology, we see it all the time. When you see it at night, it stops your eyes from signaling to the brain that it’s time to release melatonin, which makes it hard to sleep.
Basically, screens before bed make it hard to sleep.
If you’ve been feeling unusually worn out, getting headaches, or your eyes feel extra tired, you might want to look into blue light and how to prevent it. How to deal with it is trending right now; perhaps you’ve seen the blue light blocking glasses or seen Night Shift on an iPhone and wondered what it’s all about.
Blue light blocking glasses are spectacles designed to filter the blue light as it comes through the lenses to prevent it from reaching your eyes. I’ve tried the frames, and I have definitely noticed a difference in how quickly I begin to feel tired.
Luckily, you don’t have to rely on my word alone. The Journal of Adolescent Health did a study in which a group of teenage boys wore blue light blocking glasses before bed, and the control group did not. The study concluded that those who wore the glasses had melatonin released into their system sooner.
On another front, Night Shift is a quick, but partial, solution.
If you have an iPhone, you can go to “Settings,” “Display and Brightness,” and then turn Night Shift on. This allows you to set a time when you want the phone to release lower frequency light than usual. Software like f.lux is also interesting because it adjusts the range on the color spectrum with the time of day in an attempt to simulate natural lighting.
So, the next time you’re having trouble sleeping, consider staying away from screens. It may not be as bad as looking straight into the sun, but blue light makes a difference.